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Friday, October 2, 2015

Well shit.

Was a really unproductive day yesterday. Spent the entire day trying to code in a system for platforms that would, after the player jumps on them, activate a shader to change texture and then, after some time, melt the object or remove it as if it was being melted by lava.  Unfortunately, even when I (finally) got it working, it caused major performance issues. Gonna just get rid of it. So a whole day's work disappears.

Bright side, was stuck on the train with a dead phone for four hours yesterday got some good thinking done. Some new design ideas, some level fillers, some way to take advantage of existing systems. Won't be able to add new bad guys, which is a major drag, but... Such is life, I guess.

Let's finish this muhfug.

Today working on Level 5. A little behind schedule but I'm okay with it. Takes place on a big lake.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Something I've struggled with all along.

How to tell the story. A game of our size has a limited budget. That means no cutscenes. Few story cards. No voice overs. So what are we left with?

In-game text? Being a big fan of rhyming, I thought I might shake my brain in that direction. Til a friend said, hey that's what Child of Light did. Two Let's Plays later and I felt pretty discouraged.

But not defeated.

There are some options available. Little poems for the plot might seem heavy-handed. How to keep it subtle?
Poems in Sprouts Tale- not my best work. This has since
 been replaced

  1. Word scrambles. Scrambled words or letters found throughout each level, player must decipher. Fun, maybe tedious. I wouldn't enjoy it.
  2. Subtle clues scrawled into terrain objects like messages from the dead. Sinners say, "Let em starve", victims say "Don't leave me here." I might enjoy this but presents some technical difficulties and makes *actual storytelling* pretty much impossible.
  3. Poems like I've been doing. I like this, but I'm no Dr Suess and it always seems pretentious to use ~poetry~. 
  4. Collecting letters/words. Could be combined with word scramble. Player collects words or finds words throughout a level and must decipher. I wouldn't like this. 
  5. Messages from the dead
  6. Pictures found throughout the world portraying events. These would be simple scrawling, showing perhaps a murder or a building falling or something. 
Really, the choices are 2, 3, and 5. Each of these comes with unique challenges but the drawing one would be by far the most resource intensive. Also, without flat surfaces anyone of these can become a big problem, so I'd need to force little visible flat areas into the design. Over and over.  That could be weird/bad.

I have to be honest, I'm leaning pretty heavily towards the poem option, though I will probably insert some pictographs throughout the game wherever it seems most appropriate. Tell me if you think I'm making a huge mistake.

Scrawled pictures 
Also just about finished level 4. We've now introduced flying enemies, skullhounds, deathzones, and more. Lots left.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

2 down, 14 to go.

Ive finished 2 now, properly introducing the flying enemies, gas traps, skullhounds, and gameplay controls. Ive developed a new arc for game progression wherein the player will spend 3 levels in each terrain type. Hopefully this will sufficiently mix things up.

Still no fairy, tree, vine, or lighting intro. Also no grass growth. Those will trickle in over the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th worlds. This is a great experience for me; now that I'm not confined to a demo level, there's no pressure to show off all our features at once. Also the slowness of this makes for a much easier way to tell stories.

I dont want to give anything away here, since everyone should be able to form his or her own opinion on the ~meaning~, but i will tell you we're staying true to our original plans. The Voyage of Life and all that.

Having some trouble with shaders today. Getting some unexplainable parsing errors. I'm certain my brackets and colons and labels are correct. It's a head-scratcher. What I need is to create some kind of animated forcefield thing that will act as a wall that stops skullhounds from getting outside of their roam area. The problem is, we don't have an animation for "stopped by obstruction and growling at player from a distance" so I need some clear visible "wall" object. The shader is supposed to animate some ghostly looking thing, but I haven't managed to make it look acceptably bad yet. 

Also- how to make backgrounds look more interesting without getting new assets? 

Also my back is fucking killing me today. Can barely sit down. But must. Health tomorrow, Sprout today, as the ancient Romans used to day.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Had a tough semester. Nearly failed. Woulda wasted $4,000. Couldnta failed. Had to put Sprout's Tale on the back burner.

About a month and a half ago I fractured my lower back and the xray revealed some complicated spinal shit that totally sucks. So that also happened. 

It was a rough coupla months. Couldn't get much work done because it hurts to sit down for too long. 

Semester ended yesterday. Got my first couple hours in Unity in a long time logged today. Will keep working. Time has given me some good perspective. The characters moves too fast, the jumps are too big, the obstacles too simple. Smaller jumps, slightly slower run, more frequent enemies. Those changes began tonight. I will need to adjust across a number of levels. 

A smaller, more condensed level requires less assets, requiring less work from the computer. A wing all around. The old snow level was making my computer chug.

It isn't a big change. Many people may not even notice. Also making some minor to major visual changes to better match the tone of the game:

"set pieces." I also need to change the skybox

Here's a picture of our logo because who the hell actually reads these things. If you're here it's 'cause you wanna suck up Murilo Klein's beautiful handiwork. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Creating a sense of change

When I was very young and the weather had warmed up at the end of spring, I spent the afternoon's after school at a creek in a small wood. During that time of the year, while the melted snow from winter was still adding its volume to the streams of the Mid-Atlantic, the creek was swollen with water, offering almost three feet of depth at the most. Our spot was no more than that in width, and we decided on one sunny afternoon to build a bridge of stacked stones to the other side. With a crew of four, we spent the next two weeks gathering large stones from anywhere within a half mile radius and piling them into this little stream. 

What we ended up with was nothing at all like a bridge, looking more like the washed-up debris from a collapsed building, but we couldn't help it. We were proud. So we crossed that bridge every day for as long as the season's heat could dry our shoes when we slipped. 

That story may seem out of place here, in a devlog, and probably is, but its a kind of foundation for the one of the game's core features. Since the beginning, I have wanted to create that experience for the player- one in which the player can interact with the environment is a useful way, and then can see the fruits of his or her labor permanently. 

An original demo of grass growth

This was the game I wanted to play. One in which the world changes as long as the player lives in it so that there is a real and evident change taking place as you progress through the game. This sparked the simple idea- grass grows where the player walks- but has snowballed into much more. 

Grass growth in its current form- grass grows almost everywhere

Now, grass grows where the player walks, flowers grow where trees can be planted, trees serve to brighten a level to beat back darkness while also serving as a functional bridge, and vines create a permanent, living ladder, If all our wishes come true, we will also be able to add a lot more to this, including bushes that serve as springs, 

The light changes with each tree grown. The total number of trees in a level effects
the amount the light changes with each growth

What this effectively does, is that by the time the level is finished, it looks much, much different to the way it started. And to me, that's beautiful.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Grass grows flowers

A very long time ago, Sprout's Tale was 2D. Some of you may remember, but if you don't, take a look:

During those times, Sprout had quite a few differences, but it was still more or less the same game. One of the key things I liked about the grass back then was that it would flower after all the grass had appeared. The flowers themselves were just beautiful looking, so I'm happy to say we've been able to add them back into the 3D version:

In the original, very very original design of the game, grass would sprout up everywhere the player walked. As we developed though, we realized that it would cause some computers to chug (especially in the 3D version) and that grass might be better used as an indicator for where a tree can be planted. In the future, depending on funds and time and willpower, we may work back towards a more free to roam version of the game in which trees and vines can be planted anywhere and grass grows everywhere, but for now it allows us to avoid clipping problems with the trees and countless other unforeseen issues. 

We're a small team, so we've got to be realistic. 

It's possible we can still make large areas with grass growing, but those areas would have to be isolated and likely seedless. 

Maybe what we could do is ass grass areas commonly and use flowers to denote areas where plants can be grown by the player....

Now I need to jump on Unity and test.

As always, thanks for reading. Have a good one, everybody!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The 5 Most Important Lessons I've Learned from Game Development

It's been a long road and I've had to deal with a fair share of ups and downs along the way. But as with any difficult thing, its been an incredible learning experience. I've decided to share some of the the biggest, most life-changing lessons that I've gotten during my brief time as a developer.

Warning: Corny caption ahead

As he grows, so do we

1. Everything takes way longer than you think it's going to.

This one will be obvious to anyone who has been watching our game develop. In the Odyssey, Odysseus had to sail from Troy on the east side of the Aegean Sea to Ithica on the west coast of Greece. A voyage that should have lasted a number of days, or weeks at the worst, ended up taking ten years. Maybe that's the point of the whole story. Be prepared for any endeavor to become an odyssey. 

What I'm about to show you is embarrassing. It's a screenshot of an old milestones scheduling doc I had drafted to lay out the plans for when the game would be finished. I can actually feel my stomach knot when I look at the year attached to the end of those dates. 

sprouts tale has taken a long time to develop
What I've learned across my several jobs and projects over the past few years has been that, whatever your best estimate is for how long something will take, you need to at least double it and probably triple it. This seems to be true at big companies as well as small ones.

2. Reign in Your Optimism

Even when disguised as pessimism, or realism, I've learned it's probably good to be even more pessimistic. I got this one from a book. Basically, when trying to get an estimate on number of sales in a period of time, or estimated future reach with each post, or follower growth, or any of that stuff, it helps to assume far beyond what you think the worst will be. 

Basically, the book suggested taking your best conservative estimates and dividing them by three. If you can't make it work with those numbers, you need to rethink your plan completely. If you do better than that, then great. 

What's nice is that I've actually found this has gotten me much more accurate results about how many new followers/Likes/RTs to expect in a period of time. This translates to me being far less depressed when I come up short. 

3. Don't Let the Down Days Collect

Taking a day off here and there is fine, but its important to analyze why you are doing it. I've learned that if it feels like I am making up and excuse not to work, I probably am. After two days off of working on the project, the guilt of having not worked starts to have an effect. I'm suddenly feeling too guilty to open or look at the project. Too guilty and ashamed to right my wrongs. It starts to snowball. 

The lesson here was that I shouldn't take off two days in a row, and if I absolutely have to, I have to force myself back into things as soon as possible. Luckily, this situation hasn't happened in a long time, and I think I have this lesson to thank for that.

4. Not All Ideas Are Amazing

Sometimes I'll have incredibly ideas to improve the game. New ideas usually come in the form of impossibly unnecessary features that will only clutter up the game, but as soon as I have them, my reaction is something like, "Yes, this is absolutely the most necessary thing the game could ever need. We must do it now!"

I think I have Mihai and AJ at Forte Sounds to thank for tempering this wildly unreasonable side of me. Luckily, it's getting better. 

5. The World is Full of Amazing People

Seriously. It's mind boggling all the things people are working on out there. Spend ten minutes browsing a Twitter feed and look at all the people doing incredible things for fun. Doing soul-crushing, time-devouring work every weeknight and weekend for fun. The vast majority of us aren't getting paid, and a majority of those probably never will be. And yet we slog on. But just look at the stuff that's being made. 

The following tweets were pulled off the first twenty most recent posts on Twitter with the hashtag #gamedev